Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Elves and dwarves and jewels and trees

In Tolkien’s work, trees and jewels represent the intersection between art and nature, as well as representing light – the driving force of good. Similarly, trees and jewels are the staples of certain races. Many elves live in the forest - Lothlórien being a notable example. The dwarves are passionate about jewels and stones, hence the mining. However, while Tolkien often combines jewels and trees, he separates dwarves and elves. This adds a different layer to Legolas and Gimli's friendship: it is a synthesis of two extremely important motifs in Tolkien's work, and it emphasizes the idea that there can be light in dark times.

Tolkien often places Gimli and Legolas in opposition, especially when they talk about their respective environments. Gimli is the more aggressive of the two, in one instance singing the praises of the caverns under Helm's Deep. Gimli states that: “When the torches are kindled…gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls" (The Lord of the Rings, 547). The focus on the gems is characteristic of dwarves, as their whole history revolves around the mining and shaping of jewels and precious metals. The list of gems, crystals, and precious ore demonstrates Gimli's knowledge of the caverns and jewels, further solidifying the presence of jewels in the text. Gimli continues to describe the caverns, saying that:
“There are columns of white and saffron and dawn rose, Legolas, fluted and twister into dreamlike forms…wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces!” (The Lord of the Rings, 547)
The incorporation of natural elements such as wings and clouds contrasts with the more "civilized" imagery of palaces and spears, demonstrating the universal reach of jewels. This indirectly demonstrates Gimli's belief that the dwarves are superior to elves, as well as his wonder at the versatility of precious stones. However, not all of Gimli's descriptions demonstrate his belief in the superiority of elves. He says that the light in the caves "grows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel” (The Lord of the Rings, 547). In Gimli's opinion, Galadriel is the most beautiful creature in Middle Earth, saying that “yet more fair is the living land of Lórien, and the Lady Galadriel is above all the jewels that lie beneath the earth” (The Lord of the Rings, 356), so he is saying that the caverns under Helm's Deep are among the most beautiful places in Middle Earth. In addition, the fact that he compares one of his favorite places to an elf - the dwarves' enemy - demonstrates his change in opinion about elves. He is beginning to befriend them and recognizing that unity is necessary to defeat Sauron, and this comes through in his description of jewels. 

This idea of the burgeoning friendship between Legolas and Gimli extends to Tolkien's description of trees and Legolas's reaction to them. When they enter Fangorn forest on their way to Isengard, Legolas tells Gimli: “I wish that we were at leisure now to walk among [the trees]: they have voices, and in time I might come to understand their thought”(The Lord of the Rings, 546). This demonstrates the interest the elves have in the trees, especially in their history and what they have to say. The idea of understanding here could also apply to the desire to understand the dwarves, as Legolas is beginning to befriend Gimli. Unlike Gimli, he does not claim any superiority over the caverns and mines of the dwarves; he merely wishes to spend time with these ancient trees, perhaps showing that the elves may be more willing than the dwarves to take the initial step towards compromise. 

Tolkien demonstrates this idea of compromise between elves and dwarves in his descriptions of Lothlórien. It is nicknamed "the Golden Wood" (The Lord of the Rings, 337), and its trees are "arrayed in pale gold" (The Lord of the Rings, 350). Not only do these links between the trees and gold make Lórien resemble heaven, they also indirectly link the dwarves to the elves. Lórien, while belonging to the elves, is one of the first places where we begin to see the willingness of elves to form friendships with dwarves and vice versa. Naturally, there are tensions between Gimli and the elves, as they try to blindfold him, but Celeborn greets him by saying:
“Welcome Gimli, son of Glóin! Is is long indeed since we saw one of Durin’s folk in Caras Galadhon. But today we have broken our long law. May it be a sign that though the world is now dark better days are at hand, and that friendship shall be renewed among our people” (The Lord of the Rings, 355)
This is a prime example of the efforts to reconcile the differences between elves and dwarves in the face of evil. Further reconciliation is evident in Tolkien's descriptions of Lórien as well: he says that “the grass was studded with small golden flowers shaped like stars” (The Lord of the Rings, 350). This description links not only the elven interest in nature - the grass and flowers - and the dwarven interest in gold, it also incorporates the idea of light: the stars. This suggests that the combination of jewels and nature results in light: one of the major forces of good in Middle Earth. 

The interplay between light, nature, and jewels is found beyond Tolkien's descriptions as well. Legolas tells Gimli that “if we both return safe out of the perils that await us, we will journey for a while together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm’s Deep” (The Lord of the Rings, 548). In this moment, the trees of Fangorn and the caverns of Helm's Deep combine to be associated with the end of the war and the defeat of Sauron. Therefore, Legolas and Gimli's friendship is a literal representation of what could be possible should the forces of good triumph over evil.

Why would Tolkien choose to develop the relationship between Gimli and Legolas, and, by extension, the relationship between dwarves and elves, through his descriptions of jewels and trees and the interplay thereof? This may be because of his religious tendencies: paradise is often associated with jewels, and trees are often characterized as having religious importance, like the cross in The Dream of the Rood. Therefore the combination of the two signifies religious importance: Legolas and Gimli's friendship, as characterized by their love for and the combining of imagery involving trees and jewels, is an alliance that is ultimately good, and has power to defeat the enemy. 


1 comment:

  1. Nice detailing of the relationship between dwarves and gems, elves and trees as illustrated in Gimli's and Legolas's descriptions of the caves and woods. I would have liked to hear more about why Tolkien gives them the friendship he does. It seems to me critical to understanding his use of the imagery of stones and plants as creatures. RLFB